Back in October, Jonathan posted about The Year of Billy Miller and other beginning chapter books, but we haven’t gone back to look at more of these. What are the other standouts this year…and here I’m casting a very wide net…among those books for beginning readers, from, say the PENNY AND HER MARBLE crowd to FLORA & ULYSSES? I.e., the often-overlooked age range for Newbery.
Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series gets perennial mention on our blog, though we don’t always post on the latest one. In fact, I’d given myself a short hiatus from the series, but last week read CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, which Mark Flowers played against BILLY MILLER. The voice and style here are so strong the narrative hooks you immediately, and the pacing of the solid plot, and rhythm of humor interlaced with Clementine’s small shifts in character development, don’t let you go. This combo feels to me perfectly suited to its audience, presenting plot and character narrative development at a scale and in a context that beginning readers can identify with.
I also had a blast with THE ADVENTURES OF A SOUTH POLE PIG by Chris Kurtz. At 278 pages, this is for a more secure reader than those for CLEMENTINE, but with a small trim size, and plenty of white space and illustrations, it’s suited to the same attitude. There is no real-life context here: Flora, a pig, is included in a trip to the South Pole for her bacon-making potential, but instead saves the day with her curiosity and determination to be part of a team (a dog-sledding team, specifically). Here, plot is more developed, but following a traditional arc that lets new readers enjoy the well-developed side characters and the humor. (Warning to rat lovers: rodents don’t fare well in this otherwise animal-loving story.)
Would either of these make it to my top 10 for Newbery? Probably….not. But they are both so strong, and reach their intended audience so well, that they should provide stiff competition for the wider field. It can be a challenge for adult readers to connect as strongly with these kinds of stories as they might with more plot-rich fare as THE REAL BOY or stylistically interesting TRUE BLUE SCOUTS. But it’s not the richness of plot or style in itself that makes something distinguished…it just makes a story more appealing to seasoned readers. Kurtz and Pennypacker demonstrate a knowledge of their audience that is distinguished, with vivid voices and a solid narrative footing for younger readers.